A Right to Justice

legal advice and representation for prisoners


It is important that you gain the correct categorisation when you are about to start a prison sentence. A Right to Justice can help you get the best possible categorisation. This page describes what categorisation is and why it is important to you.

What is categorisation?

Categorisation are issues of importance to all prisoners'. They determine how far from families they are located, which courses are available to them and what level of security they will be subjected to. Categorisation and the availability of offending behaviour courses may well be relevant to how long the prisoner will serve.

The purpose of categorisation is to assess the risks posed by a prisoner in terms of:

  • Likelihood of escape or abscond.
  • The risk of harm to the public in the event of an escape or abscond.
  • Any control issues that impact on the security and good order of the prison and the safety of those within it.

A prisoner then has to be assigned the lowest security category consistent with managing those risks. Categorisation has different specifics for males and females:

What do the different security categories mean?

The official definition of prisoner security categories is as follows:

Prisoners whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or the police or the security of the state and for whom the aim must be to make escape impossible.

Prisoners for whom the very highest conditions of security are not necessary, but for whom escape must be made very difficult.

Prisoners who cannot be trusted in open conditions, but who do not have the resources and will to make a determined escape attempt.

Prisoners who present a low risk; can be reasonably trusted in open conditions and for whom open conditions are appropriate.

Principles of categorisation

All prisoners' must have assigned to them the lowest category consistent with managing their needs in terms of security and control and must meet all the criteria of the category for which they are being assessed (i.e. for Category D this will mean that they are low risk of harm, can be reasonably trusted not to abscond and for whom open conditions are appropriate i.e. will usually be within the time to serve limit).

A prisoners' security category should never be adjusted to achieve a better match with available spaces within the prison estate. However, it should be noted that where population pressures exist or where it is in the prisoners' own best interests (for example, to access or complete an offender behaviour programme), he may be allocated to or retained in a prison of a higher security category than that assigned to him.

Categorisation decisions must be fair, consistent and objective.

Categorisation decisions are individual risk assessments which must be in line with current policy and reached without bias in respect of race, age, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or any other factor irrelevant to the categorisation process.

Recategorisation and allocation

The purpose of he recategorisation process is to determine whether, and to what extent, there has been a clear change in the risks a prisoner presented at his last review and to ensure that he continues to be held in the most appropriate conditions of security. Allocation often follows immediately after recategorisation but is a separate process, the purpose of which is to assign the prisoner to a suitably secure establishment which best meets his needs insofar as pressures on the estate allow.

Risk levels may increase or decrease depending on individual circumstances and the prisoners' security category must reflect this.

Recategorisation to a lower security category is not an automatic progression or right but must be based on clear evidence of reduction n previously identified risk levels to a level that is manageable in an establishment of the lower category.

Two years is considered to be the maximum time a prisoner should spend in open conditions ('D' category). However, assessment of a prisoners' individual risks and needs must support earlier recategorisation to a 'D' categorisation.

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